ope Francis reminded the faithful at an audience that there are three ingredients to make our celebration of Christmas authentic: joy, gratitude and prayer. Unceasing prayer helps us enter into relationship with God, the source of true joy. And only when our hearts are grateful can we be truly joyful. Pope Francis affirms that a grateful heart is a joyful heart.
It’s been a long time since I’ve given in to my itchy feet to explore. In a year, we are able to get four weeks of local vacation. So I decided to take a two – week off from Burmese language studies and explore this part of Myanmar. This time I will be traveling to Putao, a small quite town in the northernmost Kachin State. It is known for it’s cold weather and snow-capped mountains. After getting my one-year visa from Bangkok I flew straight to Mandalay where I spent a few days in the city to explore its many temples and ancient cities.
A Christian who sleeps can never sing, dance or rejoice! Myanmar is a country of diversity – religions, traditions, languages, cultures and color. It is waking up to this beautiful reality. Let us light our candles to shed light to the darkness of intolerance, exclusivity, fear and misunderstanding in the world today. Wake up! Do not sleep!
The night comes to us like death. We encounter obstacles and tragedies but it is the hope that every sunrise brings to us – new beginnings. For every sunrise is a resurrection. The promise Jesus gave us. My hope with my journey here in Myanmar is for deeper peace, tolerance and understanding and harmony to come for the people of Myanmar – a joyful and colorful mix of Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and Hindus.
The young people I met are yearning for their own purpose in life. They come from different backgrounds: students, social workers, bankers, youth pastors, deacons, theologian-professor, teachers, media content manager, and software developer. But their Christian identity makes them more than their professions. They want to seek more in life. They want to seek the Truth. What is the Christian identity and mission? They are passionately Christian.
Many of us felt rejected at certain times of our lives. How we deal with rejection often tell us how we see ourselves. When we measure ourselves up to certain ideals that society puts up to us and when we fail – we feel rejected and unacceptable. We believe we are not enough. We think something is missing or wrong in us. The young people I met were considered problems. Some even consider them as garbage and useless. And the young people begin to see themselves as problems, like garbage and useless.
Dialogue is in finding and walking with our similarities in spite our differences. But dialogue is also celebrating our differences which gives greater life and light and brings about surprises and hope. Just like Shwebo who saw me as a Filipino “ponjee” or monk, I also see him and Myanmar through my eyes that understands the world through my worldview shaped by my faith and experience. In the dialogue of life, we are the gifts we bring to each other. Dialogue is the act of giving and receiving gifts. This journey has just began.
On the same day, Anthony’s family invited me to dinner. He told me they wanted to meet me. One of them was Anthony’s Aunt Rosa – she speaks Tidim but very little Burmese or English and she kept repeating to me, “Good, good, good. I am sorry!” Michael told me she wanted to talk to me but she does not know how in English. Around 5:00 pm people started coming in and I was introduced to each family member. Anthony has a big family. Like Filipinos, families are extended to the brothers and sisters of one’s parents on both sides and their families. It was just like being at home. The youngest is little Francis, the adorable baby. Anthony and his family belong to the Zomi peoples specifically the Tidim group. They speak a unique language and possess a culture similar to the neighboring hill tribes of India, the Naga people and northern Myanmar, Kachins.
Shwebo’s monastery is a two – story house. The house door was open wide and we found his teacher sleeping inside. He gently woke him. We sat and they offered us water. The very first thing he wanted to show us was his collection of books so he took us to the second floor. They were mostly written in Burmese and a few in English. He had no other clothes except the robe he is wearing and an unopened package of new cotton robe, a gift from a friend. The room is big but there are no divisions except for the little room where an altar is kept. I pointed to the bed and asked him if that is where he sleeps. He replied and pointed to the floor, “I am the youngest monk here and that is where I sleep.”
Lola passed away a few days ago – at a very young age of 96 years. Age has taken toll of her body but not her spirit. She remained feisty and strong. I had fun talking to her the last time I saw her. At my ordination, she came dressed in her white dress – like a little girl. I had to talk her that they had to go since she didn’t want to leave.
Stupas, temples, Buddha statues and more – that is Ayutthaya Historical Park and the throng of tourists that march their way through the numerous temples is hypnotic. But what stuck with me is our encounter with a baby elephant, well probably a teener and with an elderly Buddhist monk. After seeing so much of the temples, we decided to head to the Elephant Palace where one can ride or feed the elephants. The curious boy in me wanted to see an elephant, although I have seen one in captive at extremely bad condition in Manila Zoo, Mali – the lonely elephant.
This is Bangkok rush just like the short trip I have here in Thailand – it was a rush. I arrived here last Monday straight from a two – week exposure in another Southeast Asian country, Myanmar, formerly Burma.
Working for about 5 years, I sat before a desktop computer most of the time making reports and presentations and on my lucky days be out in the field. I am grateful for the experience and lessons I learned working with them. I have no complaints because I loved my work. But eventually I was looking for more – a way of life I’ve always dreamt of as a young boy.
So I decided to ditch my desk and leave a promising career in government service for a much more simple life that of a missionary.